Chongqing Aflame

Chongqing Alley At Night.jpg

I woke to bursts of fireworks this morning. The New Year began only a short time before I arrived in China and the country's Spring Festival has yet to end, so I've learned such a sound doesn't merit particular note.

But this is Chongqing. Here, when I turn down an ancient alley and hear the blasts and pops I can't help but imagine the sounds Mel heard while he was here. The sound is so common that it surrounds, that it seems a part of the landscape. In fact, experienced one way, Chongqing is the most sensual city I've ever visited.

Beyond the fireworks, you hear Chongqing in honking horns, sizzling streetside frying pans and screams of Schezuanese from every direction. At night, before your eyes, Chongqing's bright lights dance up skyscrapers, the same towers that shoot from fields of strewn rubble and half-buried buildings, far past the smog-smudged apartment blocks they're replacing. Chongqing's scent wafts from grilling meats and fetid alleys. The taste of Szechuan peppers and the tingle of Ma La numbs your lips while you seek respite for calves strained from climbing interminable stairs and feet sore from wandering meandering alleys.

Though this sensation permeates, so too does its absence. Chongqing flows between tidal extremes, from noise to silence, movement to stillness, energy to calm.

And, as I write, so returns the fireworks, as they have done and will again. I wonder: do they mean something more here, where they pepper and blast the sky in ways far longer and more varied than they have elsewhere? I wonder:  Am I hearing the past?